January 26, 2019

From Fairy Magic to Retirement Planning


From Fairy Magic to Retirement Planning

Russians' real incomes have fallen for five years in a row: despite assurances that 2018 broke a trend of rising poverty, the state statistics agency on Friday published figures showing that real incomes dropped by 0.2 percent last year.

Russians are also getting deeper in debt: in 2018, collective debt of Russians increased by 23 percent to nearly 15 trillion rubles (over $230 billion). This is the fault of increasing mortgages and short-term high interest loans that trap many working class Russians into an endless cycle of debt.

One Central Bank official however saw a more existential reason for Russians’ financial troubles: Russian folktales are to blame for not instilling a sense of responsibility and thriftiness from a young age.

“Even when they have some financial literacy, people will still be doing the wrong things. We tell people about the golden fish and the pike. Look here, the older brother works – he is a fool, the middle brother works – he is a fool too, the youngest brother just sits around, then he catches a pike and everything works out for him. From childhood this grows into the way people deal with the financial market when they are adults. So we need to change the folk tales, you understand. We need to reject this background, teaching children about freebies. That is very important.”

– Sergei Shvetsov

 

Sergei Shvetsov, who is the first deputy chief of the Central Bank, seems especially irritated at the tale of Yemelya the fool, the young lazy brother who is finally persuaded by his family to help fetch some water from the ice hole. There he accidentally catches a magical pike, who asks him for freedom in exchange for anything his heart desires. Yemelya only needs to utter a certain code phrase and any wish will come true. Starting small, Yemelya first uses the magic phrase to get his chores completed without lifting a finger. At the end of the tale, he is a prince living in a castle with the tsar’s daughter. [See our Survival Russian column on this tale.]

Do Russian folk tales really discourage hard work and long-term planning? 

Alexander Koshkin's illustration of Alexei Tolstoy's 1984 Adventures of Buratino, the Soviet version of Pinnochio, where Buratino is mugged by the greedy Cat and Fox

It’s true that many of these stories aren’t kind to characters whose goal is to pinch pennies or to become rich, instead dumping sudden wealth on people – often kind and simple souls – who don’t particularly want it in the first place. 

Viktor Vasnetsov's painting, The Princess Who Never Smiles

Take The Princess Who Never Smiles – another tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev. The story zooms in on a young worker who, when his boss pays him his yearly wages, only takes one coin, because he is modest and God-fearing, and then immediately loses it. This process repeats itself for several years. He then gives away the little money he has to small animals out of pity. At the end – spoiler alert! – he is of course the one to make the kingdom’s perpetually sad princess laugh, winning her heart and a seat in the castle. Not the sort of saving plan your bank would recommend, of course.

Hard-working Balda, illustrated by Oleg Zotov in the 1980 edition of Pushkin's tales

But take the tale written by Alexander Pushkin about the workman Balda, hired by a greedy priest who thought he was getting a great deal, after Balda agreed to work in exchange for hitting the man three times on the forehead at the end of the year. The man tries to send Balda to his death to avoid this, but Balda perseveres, teaching the man a lesson: Don’t go rushing after the cheapest alternative.

In other words, khalyava comes with some fine print. A good thing to keep in mind while online shopping.

Pyotr Bagin's illustration for the folk tale Ivan the Cow's Son

 

You Might Also Like

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
The Best of Russian Life

The Best of Russian Life

We culled through 15 years of Russian Life to select readers’ and editors’ favorite stories and biographies for inclusion in a special two-volume collection. Totalling over 1100 pages, these two volumes encompass some of the best writing we have published over the last two decades, and include the most timeless stories and biographies – those that can be read again and again.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955